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Politics

End of the road for Bernie Sanders

By Bill Press, Tribune Content Agency on

In just over a month, the world's turned upside down. Six weeks ago, the coronavirus was still considered a contagion affecting one city in China, which might someday spread to the United States. Today, it's a global pandemic, impacting over 1.5 million people worldwide, including almost 450,000 cases in this country.

Six weeks ago, Bernie Sanders was on top of the world. Joe Biden's clumsy start and Bernie's strong showings in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, made him the runaway favorite to win the Democratic nomination. Then came South Carolina, Super Tuesday, Michigan, Minnesota, and Illinois. Biden came alive, Bernie ran out of gas, and what looked like a sure thing for Bernie suddenly loomed impossible.

To his credit, Sanders this week did what too many candidates refuse to do: He accepted reality and dropped out of the race. True, his name will appear on the ballot in the remaining primaries (most state ballots are already printed) and he'll accumulate more delegates, but he's no longer a candidate, he will not campaign, he's already vowed to support the Democratic nominee and urged his followers to do the same.

For Democrats, this is good news, especially given the uncertainty over delayed state primaries caused by COVID-19. Now that they know former Vice President Biden will be the party's standard-bearer, Democrats can focus on building the organization, resources and message necessary to defeat Donald Trump in November.

It's also a great opportunity to unite the Democratic Party. And the first step in uniting the party - which won't, let's be honest, be easy for some Democrats - is to follow Joe Biden's lead in giving Bernie Sanders the credit he's due. True, he will not be the nominee. He will never be president. But his impact on the Democratic Party has been nothing short of transformative. Even though he never officially joined the club, as an outsider, he managed to reshape the Democratic Party more than any other Democrat alive.

There are three ways Sanders changed the Democratic Party and, indeed, in so doing, changed American politics. First, by the issues he championed. Bernie's campaign platform, in both 2016 and 2020, was loud and bold: affordable health care for all; $15 minimum wage; free, or at least affordable, college education; raising taxes on the wealthy; leading the fight on climate change.

At first, those goals may have appeared radical. In 2020, they weren't just tolerated, they were embraced with only slight variations by every one of the 25 other Democratic candidates for president. Today, the agenda of the Democratic Party is the agenda of Bernie Sanders.

Second, Bernie reinvigorated the party by bringing back many disaffected Democrats, blue-collar workers who live on the edge and felt abandoned by the Democratic Party, many of whom voted for Trump in 2016. But, also, by inspiring millions of new, young voters to get involved in politics for the first time, promising them an alternative to "politics as usual."

 

Third, Bernie totally reinvented the way campaigns are funded. He proved conclusively that - with the right message and the right know-how - candidates don't need millionaire donors, $10,000-a-plate dinners, or a Super PAC. They don't have to spend half their time on the phone, dialing for dollars. They can raise all they need from enough inspired average voters willing to write $5 checks.

Ironically, the coronavirus impacted the Sanders campaign both negatively and positively. While efforts to slow the spread of the virus, in effect, shut down the Democratic primary and prevented Sanders from holding his signature campaign rallies, the reality of dealing with the pandemic only confirmed the urgency of his message. Never was a stronger case made for universal health care, family medical leave, a living wage, or respecting science.

Unfortunately for Sanders, in the end, Democratic primary voters decided that, while they liked Bernie's ideas, Joe Biden would be a stronger candidate against Donald Trump. It's a classic political case of "Message adopted. Messenger rejected." Yet still respected. Biden was quick to praise Sanders, vow to adopt many of his ideas, and invite his supporters to join the Biden campaign.

Back in 2015, when he and I first discussed the possibility of his running for president, Sen. Sanders told me his goal was not necessarily to be elected president, but to build a progressive movement in this country around issues important to working families, long the backbone of the Democratic Party. Five years later, I think he can safely say: Mission Accomplished.

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(Bill Press is host of The BillPressPod, and author of the new book, "Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Trump (And One to Keep Him)." His email address is: bill@billpress.com. Readers may also follow him on Twitter @billpresspod.)

 

 

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